The creators of The Crown discussed how they brought the monarchs story to life on screen at the RTS Futures event, The Crown: From Storyboard to Screen.
Taking any script and bringing the story to life on screen is no easy feat, and when the story is based on the most famous family in the world, the task carries an elevated sense of responsibility.
“We’re not just recreating history,” said The Crown's production designer Martin Childs.
“It’s our own version of the world – it’s not a documentary. We try and find the mood and tone of our version of it,” added costume designer Jane Petrie.
“When I first get a script, I just read it as a viewer. The first thing is genuine excitement…then the fear starts setting in,” revealed director Ben Caron.
“You cant just be excited about the story, you then have to get excited about creating the story yourself,” said Childs.
Editor Pia Di Ciaula admitted she reads the scripts the way the Netflix audience devours each series of the hit royal drama, “I set aside a weekend and I binge-read them all.”
“You start to break it down into bite-sized chunks,” added Petrie. “For me, it’s individual characters and story arcs.”
Caron revealed the crew would watch hours of archive footage in the development of the royal series to add authenticity to the story. “Peter Morgan [writer of The Crown] will sit down with the researchers at the beginning of each series and give an outline of what events he plans to cover.
“He'll then send the researchers away to build up a mass of relevant material.”
The highly documented life of the Royals provided endless material for the drama, and a base for the story to unfold.
“Archival footage gives you a starting point to work from to create your version of it,” says VFX Supervisor Ben Turner. “There are some things I try to recreate perfectly, and others where I use artistic license.”
However, Caron makes it clear they are not trying to make factual television. “We are not trying to make a documentary, but I am trying to find the truth within a scene.
“I'm never daunted by the weight of historical truth.”
Changing with the times
As the second series swings into the sixties, the subtle changes in set design and costume were key to showing the transition into the new decade.
“Part of fun is returning to locations and updating them to show passage of time,” said Turner. “With London Airport, for example, we could start introducing terminal buildings and more vehicles going by and bring it into the Heathrow era [for series two].”
Martin Childs agreed: “Visually you can be more subtle with the modern world."
With 398 sets created for season two, the production team had a huge design project on their hands and were able to have a strong creative influence on The Crown’s distinct ‘look’. “Peter’s scripts are not too descriptive about his scene, he gives few words and I have liberty on how to interpret that,” added Childs.
Caron revealed that "70 to 80 percent [of the set] is locations, and 20 percent is how we connect those seamlessly together - the 'connective tissue' - so when you watch it [it gives] the illusion that it's real.”
A key player in building the illusion is VFX supervisor Ben Turner. The creation of the striking Britannia yacht in series two required months of work by connecting and interweaving six different locations to create one story location.
“We flew a drone around the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh and took photographs on deck," he explained. "We took a lot of different photos of the same thing but from different angles to create our own computer generated version of it.”
Despite the level of preparation and detail that goes into the set and costume design, changes can still be made on the day to add to the depth to the narrative. Petrie describes an instance where she decided on the day that the character of Jackie Kennedy needed a cape during her first meeting with the Queen.
She travelled in her lunch break from Lancaster House to Elstree Studios to make the last-minute wardrobe adjustment for the climactic scene. “Often things change because you get the context of something else comes into your mind.”
“You have to go with the story and characters, you have to really address the narrative and what the story brings you.”
‘The Crown: From Storyboard to Screen’ was an RTS Futures event held on 5 March and was chaired by Toby Earle. The event was produced by Tom Popey with support from Allie Elwell.
All photos by Paul Hampartsoumian